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The beginning of the covenant; Faith vs. Faithlessness

Confused about the Devil in Genesis

Postby JM85 » Mon Apr 30, 2018 8:21 pm

I am trying to read the Bible in chronological order and it's getting a bit confusing somehow. In Genesis, the Devil is referred to as a Serpent; but he is also a fallen angel at some point that I haven't gotten to yet? I'm confused at how he came to be and how he fits into the fallen angel category. Also, why would God create evil and not just skip free will? Wasn't the flood to erase all the horrible sin? But sin still remained. Please help. I think ?I have a tendency to overthink things and confuse myself. Thanks
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Re: Confused about the Devil in Genesis

Postby jimwalton » Tue May 01, 2018 2:53 pm

Glad you started in Genesis! You've already hit a glitch by chapter 3. Glad to talk about any of it as you roll through the whole Bible.

That you think the Devil is referred to as a Serpent shows that you've had some background in the Bible. You're making an assumption that you must have been taught, but that isn't really there.

First of all, the Devil isn't referred to as a serpent in Genesis 3. The Devil isn't even mentioned. We don't find out about that connection until the New Testament. In the Old Testament, and in OT times, it was a serpent. Now, just to be clear, I don't think it's a snake, but a spiritual being.

The Hebrew word for serpent is nahash, which is indeed the common word for snake, but it also possibly means "able to stand upright." There are all kinds of verbal possibilities here. For instance, nahash is the same root as nehoset, which means "bronze". We see that the shiny, upright snake in Number 21.9 is the same root: it was a literal thing, but also a spiritual symbol. "Snake" here in Genesis 3 could also be a word play, because the Hebrew word for "deceive" is very close to the word for serpent, and it is the same root as for magic and divination. Snakes in the ancient world were very much associated with spiritual powers, magic, and cultic rituals. So maybe that's why this deceiver was a snake and not another animal.

Back to Genesis now. So what if this "thing" (the nahash, the "serpent") was a spiritual power, represented to the woman as a bright creature, speaking "spiritual wisdom", and yet was deceiving her—all of these can be expressed by the word for snake? Just a little bit of research could change the whole picture. Bible scholars are still working on this text. New archaeological data are motivating them to rethink what we thought we knew. So maybe that's why there was a snake in the first place—it was actually a spiritual power (same word group).

So maybe, as I said, this wasn't a snake at all (though logically that is the word used by their culture). Maybe it was a deceiviant (my own coined word. You like it?) upright spiritual being. That may have been why Adam & Eve didn't think it was weird to converse with it. After all, who would talk to a snake? The nahash distorted God's words, deceived them both, and was cursed by God for what he did. And, by the way, nahashim are often the object of curses in the ancient world, and the curse of Genesis 3.14 follows somewhat predictable patterns, conforming to the culture's expressions and forms. The word curse ('aror) also means "banned," so what was happening was that this spiritual being was being thrown out of the garden, so to speak, removed from God's presence (banned), and that was his curse. Maybe that's why God punished the spiritual being. It distorted God's words, deceived them both, and motivated them to rebel against God. You'll notice in the text that the serpent was cursed, but not the man or the woman. There were consequences for what they had done, but only the serpent and the ground were cursed.

Then you mention that he is a fallen angel. The Bible never calls the devil a fallen angel. We don't know anything about his origins or what happened to him. Obviously, since God created all things good, something happened that he now is not good. In that sense, yeah, fallen. But was he an angel? We don't know. There are many kinds of spirit beings (cherubim, seraphim, archangels, angels, principalities, powers, who knows what all).

Then you want to know why God would create evil. He didn't. God created everything good, and God can only create good. If something is evil, it's not God's fault.

Free will? Yep. Here's the thing: God's wants a love relationship with people. But love always has to be chosen, it can never be forced. Love that is forced isn't love at all. Therefore people had to have free will. It's the only way to have love, kindness, forgiveness, and a hundred other things that make us human. Free will is also the only way to have science. If we can't weigh evidences, rank data, and juggle seemingly contradictory observations to arrive at a conclusion (all requiring free will), then we can't have science, and we can't even really think. We need free will to be human. God can't skip free will.

And if we have free will, God can't say to us, "You are free to choose what you want as long as it's good." That's not free will, but slavery. If we have free will, we also have the ability to choose the wrong and the bad. Only God is perfect, so our free will always has the potential to choose the wrong. God didn't create evil, we did.

> Wasn't the flood to erase all the horrible sin?

No. God had suffered personal loss (Gn. 6.6), the world had become disordered (Gn. 6.5) to the point of being irremediable, and God was setting it back to balance. He did that by judging the evil that had corrupted all of humanity, not by taking away sin. Even Noah had sin in his heart still, as did the 3 sons and their wives. Noah was a righteous (wholesome) man, but he wasn't sinless. Compared to the others, he stood out like a shining light. The author is just letting us know that he didn't deserve the punishment that the rest of his culture got.

God was cleansing the earth and bringing it back into balance, but the problem of sin and the curse remained (Gn. 8.21; 9.5-6; 20-27).

Feel free to talk more.
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Re: Confused about the Devil in Genesis

Postby JM85 » Sat May 05, 2018 8:43 pm

Thank You for the breakdown. I still get so confused with the terminology used. I learn by reading and seeing the picture of what I am reading. In the Bible I use it says "the Serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made." So in my mind I pictured an actual snake. But you are right as I re-read the Devil is not mentioned I just associated that from what I know. (Which isn't a ton) So this spiritual being, that we associate as "the serpent", is really what was using God's words to manipulate Eve into eating the fruit? There is not a whole lot of background and information on the Beginning of God's creation. It's very minimal and hard to picture. But I suppose that is because that is where God wants us not to know all the answers and have faith. Faith is by believing not by seeing.

Kind of back tracking...In the 1st chapter of Genesis my Bible says that God created human beings in his own image, then God blessed them told them to "be fruitful and multiply". BUT after it explained how he created Adam and Eve. Confused by this because I thought they were created first. That was Genesis 1 and then Gen 2 starts to mention Adam and Eve. I am also looking at a chronological Bible and it does the same thing.

Kinda going on a tangent, I know that when God refers to "like us" He is referencing Jesus (as I was taught), but does God have a Father? Brother? Sister? Is it possible that there was something that creaated Him? Is it possible that He isn't referencing Jesus here? I highly doubt it but I wanted to cover all my questions.

Genesis for me is so hard to get through and remember because most of it is Geneology. Are there any tips or study techniques to help break this book down so I can actually remember and learn.

I'm bouncing all over the place, but this seems to be my mind lately. So we never really find out how the evil one became the evil one? But if God didn't create evil, then what did? I am not yet familiar on (cherubim, seraphim, arcangels, angels, etc.) I do know that there are angels and arcangels, but I have very little knowledge so far.

The world right now (to me) seems to be so out of balance, just like before the flood. Why wouldn't he intervene now? Again, so sorry for bouncing around. Seems to be my mind this week.
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Re: Confused about the Devil in Genesis

Postby jimwalton » Sun May 06, 2018 3:56 pm

Great thoughts. Yeah, the terminology can be confusing, especially since we approach texts thinking like 21st century Westerners, and they wrote the text thinking like, say, 1300 BC Mid-Easterners. Their whole mindset and worldview are different than ours.

The text does indeed say that the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made, but remember in their culture a serpent was often thought of as a creature having spiritual characteristics. Our mind defaults to reptiles; their minds defaulted to spiritual connections. Our minds just don't work that way. Also, as I think I mentioned, in their mindset serpents were chaos creatures from the non-ordered realm. Nothing about this is anything we think about. We think in categories of science, taxonomy, etc.; they thought in terms of order, non-order, and disorder. Whatever. It's a completely different worldview. So when we see the word "snake", we think reptile. When they saw the word "snake," sure, they thought of reptiles also, but of so many other things in addition. The text tells us he was shrewd (crafty, cunning), but it doesn't say he is sinister or evil. He doesn't become associated with evil until much later (New Testament times). The text also doesn't offer the slightest hint that the serpent was either identified as or inspired by Satan. There may be good reason eventually to connect him to Satan, but the OT never makes that connection.

Yes, he was using God's words to manipulate and deceive Eve. He suggests doubt. He suggests God may not have her best in view. He suggests that death is maybe not such an immediate threat. In effect, he doesn't really actually contradict God, but rather only suggests that there is nothing to worry about. He is deceiving her into thinking that the knowledge of God can be had through her own choices and self—that God isn't the only supplier of such knowledge.

While it doesn't give us a whole lot of background and information on the serpent, it gives us a bucketload on humanity. Our basic problem is positing ourselves as the center and source of order (remember, this is what the ancients cared about). In taking from the tree, A&E are trying to set themselves up as a satellite center of wisdom apart from God. "I can do it myself." "I want to do it my way." It's not so much a rejection of God, but rather an insistence on independence. The consequence was not order centered on them, as they possibly assumed, but disorder as the result, and life in God's presence was forfeited.

Wisdom is good. God never intended to withhold it from humanity. But true wisdom must be acquired through a process, generally from someone else who is wise. The fall is defined by A&E trying to acquire wisdom illegitimately—through their own actions. They were trying to take God's role for themselves (to be like God, but via the wrong path). Instead of joining God in his role as they were taught wisdom, they tried to grab it all for themselves. As it turns out, it is the quintessential problem of the human condition.

> Faith is by believing not by seeing.

I define faith as making an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to warrant making that assumption. I believe faith is evidentiary. You may want to poke around a little bit in the faith category of this website to read some of what I've written, but you'll find out pretty quickly that i believe faith is based on evidence, that faith is not blind, that faith is not "believing something contrary to evidence" (as some define it), or that faith is believing things we can't possibly know.

> In the 1st chapter of Genesis my Bible says that God created human beings in his own image, then God blessed them told them to "be fruitful and multiply". BUT after it explained how he created Adam and Eve. Confused by this...

Again, as you poke around the "Creation" category of this site, you'll see that i believe Genesis 1 & 2 are an account of how God created the cosmos to function, not how it came into existence. In the ancient world, things existed when they had a function. If Genesis 1 were about material creation, we would expect it to start with nothing. If it were about giving it a function, we would expect it to start as "without form and void." So Genesis 1 is about how light and dark function in repeated cycles to give us time, how the firmament functions to give us weather and climate, how the earth functions to bring forth vegetation, how the sun moon & stars functions to give us seasons, and how humans function to rule the earth and subdue it.

Genesis 2, then is also about function, not material creation. It's not about how A&E came to be, but specifically what their role and function is. First they are equally in God's image (1.26), they equally function to rule the earth and subdue it (1.26-28), and chapter 2 tells us that they equally function as God's priest and priestess (2.15: "Work it and care for it" are priestly words, not agriculture ones. (See how our minds default to 21st century mentality rather than to a 14th c. BC worldview?) In Genesis 2 God is letting us know that the man and woman are equal in their function to rule, subdue, and mediate before God. The end of chapter 2 tells us that the man sees the woman as his equal (bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh), and the two are like one; they are each other's kinship partner. The word that is used of the woman is "helpmeet" or, like "counter partner." It's a compound word made up of words that are used elsewhere in the OT of God in his relationship to Israel, so we can't possibly say it means subordinate or a lesser being.

We shouldn't take these things chronologically. It's a temple text, telling us how God ordered the cosmos to function as his temple. The 7 days are the 7 days of temple dedication (all the temples of the ancient world were dedicated in a 7-day ceremony, using the 7 days to declare the wonders of their deity, and on the 7th day the deity would come to rest in the temple that was made, meaning that he would come to live with his people and engage in their daily lives with them. That's what this is. It's not scientific chronology or 7 days of material manufacture.

> I know that when God refers to "like us" He is referencing Jesus (as I was taught)

Probably not. Moses was not aware of a trinity. The "our" image of Gn. 1.26 probably refers to what the ancients called a divine council. God was surrounded by other spiritual beings. Here God is viewed as engaging them and counseling with them. none of them are on par with God, certainly, or even close, but that is likely who the "us" is.

> does God have a Father? Brother? Sister?

No, no, and no. God is a Trinity, but He is one. No other gods. He is without origin, without lineage, without siblings.

> Is it possible that there was something that creaated Him?

No. God is often spoken of in the Bible as eternal, uncreated, and without Causality (nothing brought him into being). He is the First Cause.

> Are there any tips or study techniques to help break this book down so I can actually remember and learn.

I found it helpful to think of Genesis in terms of themes, not just narrative. While there is a historic flow in Genesis from Adam to Joseph (and I believe they are all historic people), the text comes alive to me not just in reading the stories (though they are good stories), but to read them for what they are trying to teach us:

    ORDER: How God is ordering the world to function as His temple and humanity as his priests and priestesses
    RELATIONSHIP: How strongly God desires a love relationship with us.
    BLESSING: God's desire is to bless us.
    REVELATION: God's desire is to reveal himself to us.
    SIN: Sin has messed up our function, our relationship, our blessing, and even causes us to misconstrue God's revelation.
    COVENANT: God enacts several covenants to reveal himself and to establish relationship
    THE LAND: The land becomes a symbol almost all of the above.
    GOD'S KINGDOM BUILDING PROGRAM: God is determined to establish His kingdom made up of His people based on a love relationship.
    PRESENCE: What was lost at Eden was God's presence. The covenant is God's mechanism to reestablish His presence on earth and among his people.
    REDEMPTION: God has a plan to redeem all of humankind's sin to establish relationship with them.
    RESURRECTION: The narrative is filled with images of resurrection (after the Flood, Sarah's womb, Rebekah's womb, Rachel's womb, Isaac after his "sacrifice," Joseph, etc.) to give us a preview of the Messiah to come.
    FAITH & FAITHLESSNESS: The book outlines two kinds of people, and shows us the consequences of each type.

I find that if I read each story looking for these thematic threads I get more out of it.

> So we never really find out how the evil one became the evil one?

Right. We are simply not told, despite that we are dying of curiosity to know.

> But if God didn't create evil, then what did?

We did. Romans 5 tells us that sin came into the world because of us.

> The world right now (to me) seems to be so out of balance, just like before the flood. Why wouldn't he intervene now?

Matthew 24.37 says, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." Myself and many others are watching the signs and watching for the signs. Right now it's hard to tell how close it may be, but we stay alert.
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